Africa is supposed to be the continent of the future. Is it any wonder then that the only country that recognises this is tomorrow’s superpower, China. The forum on China-Africa Cooperation that starts in Beijing on Friday brings together 48 African leaders in what is billed as the largest summit in China’s modern history. The event is a Chinese declaration of intent to assume a leadership role in international relations. The forum’s agenda leaves almost nothing out — debt cancellation, aid, tariff reductions, investment, technology transfers and human resource development. It will bring China rich economic rewards and brownie points by effectively appropriating the aims of American initiatives like the African Growth and Opportunity Act and the EU’s Lome and Cotonou Conventions.
Compared with China’s initiatives in Africa, India’s are puny. While China is cancelling African debt to the tune of $ 10 billion, the India-Africa Fund aimed at development aid has a corpus of $ 200 million. China is Africa’s third largest trading partner (after the US and France) and China-Africa trade has risen four times in as many years, reaching $ 40 billion in 2005. India-Africa trade, on the other hand, was $ 9.14 billion in 2004-05. China’s foreign direct investment in Africa was $ 900 million in 2004, while India’s is $ 330 million. Given their geographical proximity, shared colonial past and cultural links by virtue of Africa’s large Indian diaspora, India can do much more. This will not only be in Africa’s interest, but also in India’s.
Experts are already warning that China’s large-scale exploitation of Africa’s primary resources, especially oil, may lock Africa into a situation of poor and declining terms of trade while creating a dangerous dependency relationship. China’s amoral (immoral?) decisions like supplying weapons to Sudan and Zimbabwe may further destabilise the continent and worsen its human rights situation. China’s ignoring of environmental and corporate governance standards when lending to African countries may lead to chaos and long-term decline. Moreover, African States themselves are decrying the influx of cheap Chinese goods. As against China, India’s commitment to democratic and human rights ideals keeps it on the straight and narrow path. African nations are also looking at ways and means to get ahead. This is a need that India, too, needs to address.